An Important Message from Ocean Doctor





Too Much Love for the Fish Everyone Hates

Spiny Dogfish (Squalus acanthus)

The much-maligned, misunderstood and now treasured “trash fish,” the spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthius). Photo: © Boris Pamikov

It was a sadly typical meeting of the Board of Collier County (Florida) Commissioners in the late nineties. As the meeting droned on, I tuned it out and fell into deep concentration, obsessively rewriting now long-forgotten remarks I would deliver to the Commission about conservation in Southwest Florida on behalf of The Conservancy of Southwest Florida where I was president and CEO. Our environmental policy director, Michael Simonik, suddenly elbowed me, “Can you believe this?” he gasped. As I looked up, Commissioner Barbara Berry was on her soapbox delivering a monologue, and like Michael, I was stunned to hear what she was saying. She soared into hyperbole to sing the praises of the land developers, declaring Southwest Florida far better than when she arrived, and with a look of disgust tinged with horror, told us how awful it was before the developers came, with all of these unsightly “tangles” of trees and messy vegetation. Nature run amok. Thank god the developers came along and made Southwest Florida a better place, with the neatly manicured lawns of its gated communities (not to mention highest number of golf courses per capita in the world). But as I gazed around the room, there were heads nodding. And I learned something. [Read more…]

What Every Good “Shark Week” Fan Should Read While They Watch

Bluntnose Sixgill Shark Hexanchus griseus ? R. Dean Grubbs

Bluntnose Sixgill Shark Hexanchus griseus ? R. Dean Grubbs

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA. August 13, 2012 – At the close of the annual meeting of leading American shark and ray scientists, the IUCN Shark Specialist Group (SSG) is releasing the first compilation of conservation status assessments for nearly 300 sharks, rays, and chimaeras (collectively known as chondrichthyan fishes) found in North American, Central American, and Caribbean waters conducted using the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species criteria. The report and supplementary materials can be downloaded from the IUCN website.

The report documents that 13.5% of the region’s shark, skate, and chimaera species qualify for one of the three “threatened” categories — Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable — associated with an elevated risk of extinction. Nine rays and 20 sharks qualify as Vulnerable. Sixteen percent of species are classified as Near Threatened, 27% as Least Concern, and 43.4% as Data Deficient. [Read more…]

Researchers Discover Planet’s Northernmost Coral Reef

Researchers have discovered the world's northermost coral reefs off Japan's Tsushima Island (Image: Kaoru Sugihara)

Researchers have discovered the world’s northermost coral reefs off Japan’s Tsushima Island (Image: Kaoru Sugihara)

Coral reefs are typically found in the warm, clear waters of the tropics and subtropics. Researchers in Japan have recently discovered a coral reef far north of any previously discovered on the planet, off the coast of Japan’s Tsushima Island at 34 degrees north latitude. As a reference, this would put the reef north of the city of Atlanta, Georgia. While cold water and deep water corals are found in polar regions, the types of reef-building corals discovered in Japan are generally much more sensitive to cold water and to cloudy or turbid waters, making this discovery all the more remarkable, especially in light of winter water temperatures of 13 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit), considered extremely low and most often fatal to most coral reefs. [Read more…]

RETURN to the Arctic Depths – An Ocean Doctor Special Presentation

DeepWorker sub films a giant grenadier at 1,900 feet in the Bering sea

DeepWorker sub films a giant grenadier at 1,900 feet in the Bering sea

An Ocean Doctor Special Presentation

In 2007, Greenpeace launched a groundbreaking expedition to explore the two largest underwater canyons in the world, in the heart of the Bering Sea. It was the first time manned submersibles ever entered these canyons and human eyes gazed directly upon their treasures. The expedition revealed an extraordinary tapestry of life thousands of feet below the surface, including beautiful, brightly-colored deepwater corals, sponges, anemones, octopus and fish and resulted the discovery of new species and species ranges.

The expedition also revealed the terrible damage being done to these intricate ecosystems by trawling nets, even more than 1,000 feet below the surface. Coldwater corals are the oldest living animals on the planet, some of which are roughly 4,000 years old and still alive today. But what may take decades, centuries or millenia to grow can be wiped out in the blink of an eye by a factory trawler net. [Read more…]

60 MINUTES “The Gardens of the Queen” Named Finalist at BLUE Ocean Film Festival 2012

60 MINUTES' "Gardens of the Queen" Named as Finalist in BLUE Ocean Film Festival 2012

60 MINUTES’ “Gardens of the Queen,” with Anderson Cooper named as Finalist in BLUE Ocean Film Festival 2012 (Image: CBS)

The 60 MINUTES presentation of “The Gardens of the Queen” with Anderson Cooper featuring Cuba’s Jardines de la Reina has been named a finalist in the BLUE Ocean Film Festival 2012, to be held September 24-30, 2012 in Monterey, California. Cooper and the 60 MINUTES team joined Dr. David E. Guggenheim, Senior Fellow and Director of the Cuba Marine Research and Conservation Program at The Ocean Foundation and?Fabi?n Pina Amarg’s of the Cuban Center for Coastal Ecosystem Research, to explore this striking underwater ecosystem. Earlier this year, the 60 MINUTES segment, which originally aired in December 2011, won the 2012 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in journalism.

“The Gardens of the Queen” will be screened at BLUE, with an introduction and discussion by Dr. Guggenheim, now in his 12th year working in Cuba, along with the 60 MINUTES producers (invited) and panel of experts focused on the significance of the piece as well as the important roles that marine protected areas play in protecting the world’s ocean ecosystems. [Read more…]

Where Mercury in Fish Comes From and What Regulators are Doing About it

An Inconvienient Reality

Image by Nick Humphries via Flickr

Mercury in fish? Much of it comes from the sky. Coal-fired power plants emit tons of the toxic heavy metal into the atmosphere where it travels hundreds of miles before depositing on the surface of lakes, rivers and the oceans, where it is ingested and gradually works its way up to the top of the food chain where it becomes highly-concentrated in the flesh of the ocean’s predators, such as sharks, tunas, and dolphins.

The EPA issued a rule on mercury emissions, but there is now concern that they may weaken the ruling due to push back from electric utility companies. [Read more…]

Dolphin Deaths in Gulf of Mexico – “Perfect Storm” of BP Oil Spill and Cold Water

A C-130 Applies Dispersants During the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (USCG Photo)

A C-130 Applies Dispersants During the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (USCG Photo)

In a study published in PLos ONE, investigators studied a large die-off of dolphins in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. During the first four months of 2011, 186 bottlenose dolphins, 86 of which were very young perinatal calves, washed ashore from Louisiana to western Florida. For perinatal dolphins, this stranding rate was nearly 6 times higher than the average number of perinatal strandings in the region during the previous 8 years and nearly twice the historical percentage of total strandings. These dolphin deaths represent the largest marine mammal mortality event in the Northern Gulf of Mexico since 2004, when a red tide killed more than 100 bottlenose dolphins off the Florida panhandle.

What killed so many dolphins? Investigators point to a “perfect storm” of dolphins weakened by the BP oil spill, then killed by colder-than-normal water in the Gulf that took its toll on a vulnerable dolphin population. [Read more…]

Fertilizing the Oceans with Iron Sinks Carbon, But is it a Good Idea?

The Eddy and the Plankton

“The Eddy and the Plankton” A massive plankton bloom observed from space. (Image: NASA Earth Observatory via Flickr)

It’s a controversial idea that has been around for decades. Stimulate the growth of phytoplankton (plant plankton) in remote reaches of the oceans by fertilizing the oceans with iron. Previous studies concluded that such an approach would not be effective. However, the recent analysis of a 2004 ocean fertilization experiment in the Southern Ocean — published in the journal, Nature — shows that use of iron fertilization did stimulate the growth of phytoplankton, which sank into the deep sea after the algae died, serving as a “carbon sink” in the deep where the carbon would be held out of the atmosphere for centuries. [Read more…]

Study: More Than 90 Percent of Dead Pacific Northwest Seabirds in Pacific Northwest Had Ingested Plastic

Northern Fulmar

A pair of northern fulmars (Photo: annecarringtoncotton via Flickr)

There is great concern about the impacts of plastics on marine wildlife in the Pacific, but much of the focus has been in tropical regions like the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. A new study in Marine Pollution Bulletin and reported by Discovery News shows that plastics are impacting seabird populations in the Pacific Northwest as well, a region that researchers have compared to the highly-polluted North Sea with respect to plastic pollution.


[Read more…]